Austin: Texan Beer Capital

“Austin ain’t Texas.”

If I had a quid for every sod who has said this to me…

But it’s true. Texas gets a bad rep from, well, nearly everyone who isn’t from Texas. Stereotypes abound, but none (or at least very few) of them can be seen in the Texan oasis of creativity, expression, and (as I found out recently) delicious beer that is the city of Austin.

The West Coast gets the lion’s share of the plaudits when people talk about the American beer scene. From clean, crisp hop dreams to wonderfully nuanced Imperial Stouts, the breweries of America’s West Coast can sate most people’s tastes. Indeed, when you look at the geographical origin of the US brews we see brought in to Ireland and the UK, you don’t need to have an OxBridge Geography degree to know that a significantly large percentage comes from the Pacific coast.

But, how delightfully surprised I was to discover on a recent trip down to deepest darkest (bloody boiling hottest) Texas, that there’s life in the Southern beer scene. Thriving, accomplished, world class brewing life. And a buzzing local beer community to match.

The following is a rundown of the highlights of my short trip there – I’d consider all of these unmissable if you’re in the area and want great beer…

Jester King Brewery

Jester King

Ok, when I suggested earlier that the Texas beer scene gets no recognition at all, I was bullshitting you. The team at Jester King in the Texan Hill Country (a 20min drive from downtown Austin) are globally renowned and brew some literally world-class beers.

Jester King is now an all-farmhouse brewery – only brewing wild and spontaneously fermented beer. A brave plan; they’ve even stopped producing their much-lauded IPA, Wytchmaker, in favour of pursuing the wilder side of life.

How’s that gone for them, you ask? Blimmin’ well, I tell you. Their diverse range of brews will satisfy even the most hardcore of IPA-heads, taking inspiration from (mostly) European brewing styles but with a significant nod to the new age of American sour/wild production. What am I talking about…these guys are at the very forefront of this new age, and have been for some time.

At their idilic brewery and taproom (only open on Fridays and the weekends – see their site for concrete times), I experienced one of my most enjoyable beer-afternoons ever.

Idilic Jester King

Idilic Jester King

Sure beats a Dublin industrial estate

Sure beats a Dublin industrial estate

 

Clearly the setting is second to none, but the beers on offer really were of the highest order. From their lemony, lightly herbaceous flagship farmhouse ale, Noble King, to their huge, oaky, chocolate-forward funked-up Imperial Stout, Black Metal, I was in a beer-lover’s paradise. Add into that the delicately floral and peach-led session sour, Das Wunderkind, and a cherrytastically tart Flanders Red, Ol’ Oi!, and I was set for one hell of an afternoon. There’s an indoor bar & bottle shop looking into the brewhouse and a couple of outdoor beer stations to shorten the walk of those lounging in the Texan sunshine. It’s busy, so expect queues. But, to be fair, a rushed trip to Jester King is a sin: take your time, spend a few hours trying stuff. It’s heaven.

Craft Pride

54 taps of Texan brewing, anyone?

54 taps of Texan brewing, anyone?

Back into central Austin now, and a fairly new player on the scene. Craft Pride is the true demonstration of how solid a beer culture Texas has cultivated over the past year: they never serve anything that doesn’t originate from the Lone Star State.

This is a little place down on the weird and wonderful Rainey Street (basically a rickety road of old Americana houses turned into trendy bars and eateries), that really does showcase the best of the local scene. Friendly staff and a cool little bottle shop out the back help to raise its game, but the beers on tap do their own talking. First up, Real Ale Brewing Company’s Lost Gold IPA gave a good fruity smack of dank Amarillo but then my breath was taken by what can only be described as an odd-ball of modern brewing: an Imperial Berliner Weisse(!) by Texian Brewing Co. Charlie Foxtrot is its name, and a crazy peach/orange-forward lemony lacto-sourness is its game. At 7.5% this creation (which looked like the dodgiest pint of Somerset Scrumpy Cider I’ve ever seen) was tough to get my head around. Christ knows what BJCP judges would say about it, but I thought it was bloody delicious. So there.

Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

Plenty of taps to keep you keen

Plenty of taps to keep you keen

Staying down on the nutty Rainey Street, we have Banger’s – a near neighbour to Craft Pride. It satisfies similar beery urges but with a wider scope of brews on the taplist (and a few very tasty sausages thrown into the mix). I was lucky to get plenty of interesting gear from Firestone Walker pouring when I was in there; while not a Texas brewery, their stuff is sublime and I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at it.

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That said, there were plenty of local options too, with a friendly knowledgable staff and a giant outdoor terrace. You could quite happily spend an evening here and leave boozed up and full of sausage. Like a boss.

The Draught House

I had such a good time in here that I forgot to take photos...and had to pinch this from http://alealerocknroll.com/

I had such a good time in here that I forgot to take photos…and had to pinch this from http://alealerocknroll.com/

This is a pure English-style old-skool boozer with an added oddity of an electronically displayed(!) taplist of well over 50 beers. What sets it apart from the traditional English boozer is the oh-so-polite way the locals queue up to be served at the bar. In a long, snaking line. No bar scrum or money-waving here, folks, these are sensitive people. Adorable.

Anyway, after joining a well-ordered line, there’s a plethora of choices. From local goodies from Real Ale, Southern Star, and Austin Beerworks to more widely known brews from the likes of Green Flash, Firestone Walker and Odell. Indeed, from the latter, I had a very interesting Imperial Peach IPA…Tree Shaker. This was, unsurprisingly, peach-forward with a good bit of juiciness, offset by some more bitter spruce character and peppery stuff. Pretty boozy, but an interesting half pint to say the least.

Austin Beer Garden Brewery

ABGB

Last but by no means least on this rundown is the fantastic Austin Beer Garden Brewery. Man, this place is class. As the above (booze-shaken) picture shows, there’s a cool little onsite brewery in an old hangar pretty close to downtown Austin.

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These guys really did brew the most complete, all-round-quality range of beers I’ve tasted from a brewpub in a long time. From lagers to stouts, via pale ales and IPAs, these guys nailed it. Their Hell Yes Helles (groan!) was fab: light in body, slight honey creaminess to the pale pale malt with a hint of lightly spicy hop character, it went down an absolute treat outside in the baking sun. The beer that really did blow my mind, though, was their house 5.5% ABV pale ale, Day Trip. A hazy light golden pour with a lovely white head. Gorgeous mango and lychee aroma – some pineapple and sweet mandarin orange too. Heady tropical fruits throughout. The taste is ever so juicy too: such a fresh hop whack of juicy Citra and dank Amarillo. Lots of mango and more bitter orange linger. Very clean and crisp malt backing – a touch of light digestive biscuit in there to give a little balance. Solid pine-tinged bitterness to finish, but nothing too resinous or sticky. This was truly first class. One of those brews you could quite happily sink forever more. Good job, ABGB.

So there we go, a round up of my beer experience in Austin, Texas. A couple more places didn’t get enough of a look-in for me to consider them, but believe me – there’s plenty more choice out there.  This list is by no means comprehensive and can no doubt be supplemented by the wonderful folks I met at the Austin Zealots homebrew club – such a great local beer crowd down there, who are more than open to welcoming visitors with open arms and chatting shit about beer; hit them up if you’re in town.

Oh, and don’t forget the BBQ. Not that you were going to…

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Bringing Quality to the Table

A few times every year I have that beer moment. It’s a moment that all of my fellow beer bloggers and enthusiasts know intimately…it’s the bloody reason we put the graft into seeking out and writing about new brews. It’s a moment in which you lift your newly-purchased previously-untried beer to your lips, take a sip, and then all the world gets put to rights. All of it. Glorious. All things fade and the only thing you want to do is go back to the taps and have the barman literally bathe you in it.

You’ll be happy/jealous to know that I had one of these moments this evening. And Irish drinkers should be delighted to know that it came at the hands of one of our own brewers… Those beautiful folks at Galway Bay have gone and done it again.

Craft Galway Murk?

Craft Galway Murk?

Table Beer is their newest offering and, my Lord, it’s what the Irish beer scene has been crying out for.

What’s a table beer you ask? A low ABV, cheap to purchase sessioner that those good beerfolk in Belgium (of all ages) would traditionally consume shedloads of. “Session strength” beers (i.e. sub 4% ABV-ers) aren’t exactly ten-a-penny in Ireland. We made recent headway with Trouble Brewing’s fruity Graffiti Pale Ale (3.8%), which did a good little job; although everywhere I saw it, it was being flogged at the same rate as beers in the mid 5% range. Kind of defeating the point.

Galway Bay’s 3.5% ABV new brew (a lunchtime-strength American Pale Ale) has hit the mark in a literal shitload of ways.  First, let’s talk price: it’s €4 per pint in all of Galway Bay’s pubs. All day, every day. This isn’t a special offer, mind you, it’s going to be a permanent fixture on tap and will stay at this great price from now on. Class.

Second, and most importantly, let’s get to the taste of the thing. It’s brewed with some serious and exciting new-world hops: Citra, Amarillo, and Waiiti. All of which are renowned for the smack in the proverbials they dish out to one’s sensory systems. But hey, just banging these hops into the brew kettle isn’t enough, as many brews in Ireland over this past year or two have demonstrated. It takes even more bloody skill to utilise a flavour, aroma and bitterness profile such as this in a beer of such light ABV strength.

There’s an amazing aroma of peach, passionfruit and light lemon – with a bit of orange and light spruce in there. On the palate, it’s juicy as they come: loads of orange, mango, melon, with bit of spruce and light minerally notes. Spruce and grapefruit rise in the aftertaste. There’s a tasty bit of biscuit, slightly doughy, malt in there, giving some depth while letting the glorious hop profile do its thing. In terms of body, it’s light/medium, not thin or watery by any means – another tick. Add to this a solid piney/citric bitterness lingering on the tongue, and, my loves, we have a bloody winner.

Look, this is first class. It’s better than anything I’ve had of similar ‘Table Beer’ status from  the likes of London’s The Kernel. It’s so exciting, so juicy, and so incredibly fresh right now. And, thank God, it’s here to stay.

 

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Taphouse Copenhagen

Let’s be honest, Copenhagen’s beer scene wasn’t exactly in dire straits before May of this year. Plenty of decent native breweries, world class beer bars, and a solid stream of high quality imports elevated the local scene to being amongst the best in the world.

What would make the scene better, you wonder? Well, given that slashing all beer prices in half was out of the question, the Beer Gods decreed that a new 60-tap bang-city-centre church of beer was required.

Enter Taphouse.

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Taphouse opened its doors on the eve of this year’s Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Kicking off at a time of year when the city’s filled with travelling beer aficionados with cash on the hip to spend on as much good beer as possible is probably a smart move. Smart…and ballsy – you don’t want to cock it up in front of some of the world’s biggest beer nerds.

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The location of this place is spot-on: bang central in the tourist-heavy area of Copenhagen, a couple of minutes walk from Tivoli and right by Strøget (the main shopping strip). However, it’s thankfully a little set back on a quiet side street, so you’d doubt it would ever be flooded with confused tourists looking for a sarnie and a can of Coke.

Walking into the bar, you can feel that it’s in its very early infancy. There’s a slight sense that it’s a work in progress (especially when you head downstairs to the bathrooms!) – I’m pretty sure had it not been for CBC, they would have waited another week or so to open.

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However, I still think it looked good. Another example of Scandi minimalist design, although with a much darker feel: open plan, upcycled wood cladding the walls, exposed lightbulbs, and a slightly unusual choice of dark dark grey on the walls.

There’s a mix of trestle tables, tree stumps, and barstools for people-watching at the arched windows – you’ll not struggle to find somewhere to perch (I should have said, the place is bloody huge).

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Ill-informed interior design critique done, so let’s talk about the beer, eh?

The selection is bloody great. 60 brews on tap (all keg) and a real strong focus on local Danish beer.

I was delighted to come across the beers of a few smaller Danish breweries. These (rightly or wrongly) occasionally do get lost amongst the razzmatazz of the other beer bars in the city, who regularly put crazy-good imported shit from the likes of Three Floyds on tap. Ugly Duck Brewing Co. and Flying Couch were two new ones for me
(shoutout to the former’s Imperial Vanilla Porter)

Not to be beaten by the superstar beer selections of Mikkeller & Friends et al., Taphouse had its own big guns on tap, mostly in the form of Evil Twin. Their hazy pinkish Berliner Weisse, Luksus One, gave a refreshing hit of green apple, citrus and peach with a little musty lactic tang to keep you interested. Less sessionable was Molotov Cocktail; at 13% ABV, this DIPA gives a load of boozy pine resin, grapefruit and sweet caramel. Abrasively bitter, you damn well know you’re not supposed to be supping more than a couple of halves of this. Better still, I was weeping with joy to find the delectable Imperial Biscotti Break pouring. Lord, this is one serious Imperial Porter. Full of delicious dark chocolate, almond essence, dark roast coffee and a hint of vanilla – unlike its stablemate, Molotov Cocktail, this is a 10%+ beer that you’d quite happily drink til the end of time.

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However! All the beers listed above paled into insignificance compared to one brew that truly deserves the headlines: Amager/Grassroots Skyggebilleder/Shadow Pictures. This transatlantic collaborative DIPA is quite literally up there with the best I’ve ever had: loads of pine, spruce and juicy oranges on the nose with bitter grapefruit and spruce up front on the palate, some juicier stuff happening, before dry pithiness takes hold. There’s only a touch of lightly sweet biscuit malt before we get to a long sprucey, grapefruity finish. This 8%-er definitely rivals Russian River’s Pliny in my mind. And that’s bloody well saying something.

Yep, the beers were absolutely great. Alongside the Danes on the taplist, there were plenty of international interests, from the glorious Moor (Somerset, UK) to Great Divide in the States. Something for everyone, to put it mildly.

The prices? Aye, they’re Copenhagen prices. Expect to be paying three or four quid for a half pint at the minimum. What is fantastic is the fact they have little tasting glasses with which you can “build your own flight”; I think the volume of these little things is between 10cl and 15cl and the price for whichever beer is 20DKK (two and a half quid). Happy days.

In all, I’m a big fan of this place, even if it is in the very early days of its existence. No doubt it’ll improve with age, but the staff members were all great throughout my few visits and the beer list really is wonderful – so as a ‘now’ destination it really does hit the spot. Anyone planning a beer trip to Copenhagen who doesn’t include this place on their itinerary should have their head checked.

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Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2014

Holy Lord, those Danes know how to do a beer festival.

Copenhagen Beer Celebration (or CBC to those who went and spent the entire time Twitter- spamming all the suckers poor sods who didn’t manage to get across for it) has just finished. Now in its third year of operation, the Mikkeller-run CBC has gained a significant reputation in the world of new wave brewing. It’s quite literally the Glastonbury/Coachella/another-great-event of the beer world.

CBC takes place over a heady two days in a big gymnasium out in the Østerbro area of Denmark’s capital.

The venue - pre-craziness

The venue – pre-craziness

What happens?

Well, there are four ‘sessions’ each lasting four and a half hours. Some of the world’s best and most sought-after brewers are in attendance and bring a couple of kegs to each session. Each brewer brings only one keg of each beer with them, so once the keg kicks, you’re not getting any more. Entrance is pre-paid (and highly limited – it sells out in a few minutes) and you get a little glass to do as much damage/tasting as you can in your allotted time.

The 6cl "Danish Pint Glass" as it's referred to in the Beer-Ticking communtiy

The 6cl “Danish Pint Glass” as it’s referred to in the Beer-Ticking community

On account of my laziness on the morning the tickets were released, I missed out on the fabled Pink Tickets (a liver-busting pass for all four sessions) and only managed to snag one of the last remaining Red tickets for the Saturday early session. By early, I mean early. I was there waiting in line at 9am for the doors to open at 10am.

Beginning drinking outstandingly world class beer in a queue outside a gym at 9:15am on an overcast Copenhagen morning is not something I do too much, if I’m honest. But sod it, when in Rome (and when good beer people pull out fresh growlers of Hill Farmstead gear).

How was the session?

After a good bit of queuing (I’d recommend rocking up at least 30mins prior to doors opening) we quite literally stormed the castle. Scenes reminiscent of those odd buggers who line up outside Next on Boxing Day morning at 4am and then race in to get their hands on as much tat as possible. Except, instead of tat and homewear, this particular bunch of odd buggers were racing to get some beer of serious quality in their tiny tiny glasses.

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First up: Funky Buddha’s French Toast. A beer that legitimately tastes of syrupy French toast is truly a breakfast beer of kings: this had such a huge maple syrupy depth matched up with resinous and caramel bitterness that it quite literally knocked me into action. A double brown ale of massive stickiness…thank Christ for the genius addition of proper glass-washing stations…

A bit of added expense went a long way - other festivals could certainly learn from this

A bit of added expense went a long way – other festivals could certainly learn from this

After this solid start, the order in which I had the rest of the brews is pretty hazy in my memory (unsurprisingly). I did, however, take some hastily patched together tasting notes and snapped some slightly-wonky photos.

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Notable highlights came from the likes of Crooked Stave – another one of Denver, Colorado’s seemingly endless stream of shit-hot brewers. Their barrel aged peach wild ale, L’Brett d’Peach was the ultimate funky palate cleanser – 5% ABV hazy gold with a big peach hit, Bretty spices, and orange juice on the nose, followed up with the juiciest damn peachiest taste tinged with the lightest zing of Brett. 

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Evil Twin brew some good gear. That’s undeniable. Two of these creations were at the Red Session: Imperial Doughnut Break (Peanut Butter) and Imperial Doughnut Break (Raspberry). Yes, two huge imperial stouts with  – you guessed it – dollops of both peanut butter and raspberry flavour. Sweet as hell, but delicious.

It’s always a delight to drink beers from two of America’s good beer stalwarts, Surly and Three Floyds, so to have both in attendance was class. Even better was that they brought their big guns to the session… Three Floyds Dreadnaught is everything an American Double IPA should be – full of bitter pine, juicy grapefruit, orange and an almost herbal spruce note with a clean enough malt bill to keep things crisp and crazily drinkable for a 9.5%er. Surly weren’t to be beaten, though, and had thoughtfully brought along a keg of their much-lauded imperial stout, Darkness. How nice of them. Worthy of its significant hype, Darkness was chock full of fig and chocolate, with darker roasted notes and a light touch of sweet vanilla. More please.

Most pleasing for me was the sheer quality of British brews on offer, confirming that we really do have a word-class scene that stand shoulder to shoulder with the American big boys (and then some).

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The likes of Brodies, Buxton, the Kernel and Alpha State did themselves proud (special mention to Alpha State’s Queen of Sweden Red Simcoe IPA and Buxton’s offensively well-flavoured 2.6%-er, Jacob’s Ladder). However, the brew that really stole the show for me was Magic Rock’s Un-human Cannonball. Never has a triple IPA been so bloody drinkable. Huddersfield’s finest shining on the world stage is great to see.

Well, that’ll do for listing beers and making you jealous. The beers were cracking, end of.

Bit of controversy/whinging?

A few folks have been up in arms about beer running out well before the sessions ended (especially in the later Friday slot). I did notice quite a few kegs kicking around me as we entered the final hour of the Red Session, but I managed to taste everything I wanted with a bit of forward planning. I’m no uber-ticker, so trawling round each and every brew wasn’t on my to-do list – I was happy roaming around with a never-empty glass of great stuff chatting shit with some of the finest, funniest, and daftest beer folk on the planet. True, it’s not ideal that stuff was running out, but I imagine the ticket price would have to increase significantly (from the already significant 50ish quid) to provide a truly unlimited stream of the world’s best and rarest beer. Reality check needed for some, methinks.

Food?

Shout-out goes to the food options too – a great array of smørrebrød from Hallernes and beer themed hotdogs from John’s. Other stuff (pork belly burgers, especially) looked fab, but let’s face it – I wasn’t there for the grub.

In all, a cracker of a day. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who’s into beer in any way. Copenhagen’s not a cheap place by any means, but the focus on quality in so many areas of their food and drink scene is astounding. I’ll be at CBC next year, hopefully see you there too.

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The Full Irish

Eight Degrees Brewing Company has been churning out some consistently good produce over the past few months.

Christ, they’ve just won a medal at the World Beer Cup for their US Amber Ale, Amber Ella. However much of a toss you give about beer competitions, this is pretty bloody noteworthy for an Irish beer.

They nailed a couple of IPA specials last year, Hurricane and Cyclone, in what was branded as a “Hop Off” between Northern and Southern hemisphere gear. Such was the positive reaction to these two brews, I fully expected them to go for it and bang them both into full-time production. Alas, they didn’t. But, they’ve evidently been working on a new recipe for an IPA, which incorporates all the best bits of their previous uber-hoppy experiments…

The Full Irish (not too many points for the name), is pretty much what the Irish scene has been crying out for: a juicy, clean, tropical fruit-led IPA to rival the increasingly-ludicrously-priced BrewDog Punk IPA.

Gratefully pinched from @SaltHouseGalway

Gratefully pinched from @SaltHouseGalway

Evidently, people have been getting excited about this new creation, as The Porterhouse had shot through two whole kegs of the stuff in two days over Easter Weekend and had bugger all left when I got in there. Farrington’s of Temple Bar to the rescue (and, on a side note, bloody hell – what a tap list they have now!).

The keg pint was handed over to me in exchange for a bargain €5.30. Hazy gold in colour with a really clean white head – looks the part.

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There’s lovely mango and clementine orange on the nose, some light floral notes, and a good bit of sweet passionfruit. The taste is equally juicy: lots of sweet orange, mango, and passionfruit. Some light spruce and a bit of slightly more zingy grapefruit follow up the tropical Opal Fruits thing and really get up your nose. There’s a touch of sweet digestive biscuity malt in there, but to be fair this is all about the juicy tropical stuff. Full of fresh new world hop character.

So, it’s sweet, but nothing caramelly or sticky about it – just a full whack of juicy sweet hop fruitiness. Slightly minerally in the finish, drying things out somewhat and ending things in a superbly clean manner.

At 6% ABV this is a cracker. Can’t stop myself comparing it to BrewDog’s Punk IPA – it’s just as drinkable and juicy. If Eight Degrees bang this into full time production then I’ll never buy a pint of Punk again.

 

 

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Thoughts on EBBC 2014 in Dublin

This year’s European Beer Bloggers Conference is coming to Dublin – good.

I mean that. It’s great that one of Europe’s up-and-coming beer cities has drawn in an increasingly popular and high profile (well, on my Twitter feed, at least) event. I’m proud of what my adopted home city has to offer in terms of a beer scene, so naturally I was delighted that EBBC 2014 is coming to town.

However, I’ve had a bit of a look at what’s on the menu for this two-day event. It turns out that rather than being the local-beer-talent-boosting event I hoped for, what we’ll be seeing in late June will be a good auld bit of corporate back-slapping and knacker-tickling.

Rather than whinging indiscriminately for pages and pages, I’ll make my gripes about this event brief:

Main Event Sponsor One:

Diageo. 

“Hosts Guinness & Smithwicks are delighted to welcome the European Beer Bloggers Conference to St James’s Gate in Dublin for an evening of beer discovery, tasting and dinner. Here you will uncover the craft of making the Iconic Irish Stout, Guinness and Superior Irish Ale, Smithwicks.”

Ah, those lovely lads and lasses at the bastion of quality Irish brewing are hosting the beer lovers.

The same lovely lads and lasses who pay to do this:

Picture kindly taken from @whiskeyireland after last year's Arthur's Day

Picture kindly taken from @whiskeyireland after last year’s Arthur’s Day

Every year on their Marketing Orgasm Day (sorry, Arthur’s Day) when they literally decide to kill off the independent competition.

Main Event Sponsor Two:

Molson Coors.

Now, these Canadian monoliths do have some kind of place at the Irish Beer Table (whether we like it or not) after having purchased Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery back at the end of 2012.

However, the fact that the “Beer Dinner’ they’re providing on the second night doesn’t just focus on their Irish beer portfolio (which is, to be fair, pretty good), but instead includes both Sharps (UK) and Blue Moon (errm?!) rankles with me a bit.

Bringing people to Ireland, a country with a blossoming but tiny beer scene, and giving them imported gear purely to promote the parent brand (Molson Coors’ wonderfully named “Craft Collection”) seems, well, shitty.

I understand that events like these require sponsorship, but how much bloody sponsorship in all fairness? Attendees each pay around a hundred quid, which surely must go some way to renting out an area of a bar (that, for the record, does pretty economical room rental) for a couple of days.

There will doubtlessly be highlights: a pub tour with Reuben, the actual content (hopefully), and an afterparty hosted by true Irish indie brewing stalwarts, Carlow. I’m looking forward to getting Europe’s bloggers across to see what Dublin’s all about; but, unfortunately, the above reasons mean I’m not going to be in attendance.

 

 

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Two Hundred Fathoms: More Magnificence from Galway Bay

There’s one truly on-form brewery in Ireland at this moment in time. That brewery is Galway Bay.

The gang over on the West coast upgraded their brewing facilities a few months back and they’re really starting to reap the rewards of their substantial investment. As well as significantly upgrading the recipes of their core range of brews (Full Sail, Bay Ale, and Stormy Port) they’ve perfected a seasonal milk chocolate stout (Buried at Sea) and released a legitimately show-stopping Double IPA in the form of the much lauded Of Foam and Fury.

What else does a small/medium sized Irish brewer need to do, you may ask? They’ve already reached heights that many other players in the market could only dream of (both in terms of genuine quality and public perception). You’d not begrudge the Galway Bay lads a bit of consolidation time – now would be a decent point to indulge in a good bit of laurel-resting – but no. Far from it. In fact, they’ve only gone and upped their bloody game once again…

Two Hundred Fathoms Imperial Stout

200 Fathoms

Irish brewers have knocked out a few half-decent Imperial-ish stouts over the past year or so, but nothing’s really hit it out of the park. Evidently, what was needed to bring home the bacon was a 10% ABV Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged wax-sealed Stout. Evidently.

200 Fathoms Label

Once you hack through a bit of wax and pop open the cap, Two Hundred Fathoms pours an oily black with a proper mocha head. Looks like a glass of chocolate mousse.

The aroma is full of chocolate, light roast coffee, and fruity whiskey notes (orange blossom and a touch of vanilla too). Yes, I know describing an aroma as ‘orange blossom’ is pretty far along the beer-wanker spectrum, but anyone who’s had orange blossom infused water will get what I’m harping on about.

Taste gives a good hit of dark chocolate and deep roasted malt, more perfumey whiskey notes come through, increasing peachy notes too. Some light vanilla from the barrel. Dark berries coming through to add some dark and fruity depth. There’s some light tobacco smoke and slightly burnt coffee character towards the finish. Just the right amount of malty chewiness. More wonderful fruity whiskey and oaked notes emerge as it warms. Man, this is good.

It’s so silkily smooth: nowhere near as brash and boozy as I expected. It’s pretty easy drinking to be fair, with the significant level of alcohol perfectly (nearly masterfully) integrated. Lingering dark chocolate (think along the lines of that fancy Valrhona hot chocolate that a few high-end cafés have started doing), coffee, and that semi-sweet perfumed orange blossom note carries on long into the aftertaste.

This is an excellent brew. Evidently the base imperial stout recipe is unbelievably good, but the whiskey barrel ageing has added some extra fruity depth rather than masking the subtleties of the brew with vanilla sweetness (often a byproduct of barrel ageing). In my humble opinion, Two Hundred Fathoms is up there in the same ballpark as some of the most legendary barrel aged imperial stouts in the world. And it’s made in Galway. Unbelievable.

This brew is, unfortunately, seriously limited. Only 800 bottles have been produced and they’re only available from the Cottage Group’s pubs (Against the Grain, Dark Horse, etc.) at the price of €7.50 per 50cl bottle. This is a bloody decent price. I’m going to buy as many as I can get my hands on…race you to the bar…

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